Columns

Don’t Blink: Summer and Childhood Vanish

They marched out of the old Orchard Prairie schoolhouse, eyes alight with excitement.

“Are they done yet?” asked the oldest.

The three boys had been waiting for their mom, the school’s PTO president, to finish an afternoon meeting that I’d just left.

I’d paused to take a picture of the historic schoolhouse when the boys bounded into view.

They’d been busy while they waited.

“We catched a spider!” shouted the littlest boy. “A GINORMOUS spider!”

The middle brother shouldered him out of the way.

“We put it in a Gatorade bottle that I found,” he said.

His older brother held the spider aloft, soldiering on in search of their mother, while the youngest stayed behind, eager to explain his role in the capture.

“I founded it first!” he said. “Back there!”

He pointed behind the building, bouncing with excitement.

“It’s GINORMOUS!”

Then he hurried to catch up with his brothers.

That encounter brightened a long Monday and memories of my sons tumbled through my mind.

Once upon a time, I had four little boys whose summer adventures frequently included capturing creepy crawlies.

For the record, I’m not a fan of creepy crawlies, but I am a fan of boys and boundless curiosity.

Summer often seems endless when you’re an at-home mom. Endless can equal excruciating when bored boys fight over video games. I worked hard to balance planned activities while leaving room for unstructured play. Anything to keep my busy boys away from electronic devices and spontaneous wrestling matches.

One summer, I grew tired of my Tupperware being used to re-home spiders and insects, so I bought the boys a bug-catching kit. It came with a net, a magnifying glass, tweezers and a plastic container to house their captures.

They spent hours turning over rocks, crawling under decks, and digging through dirt to find new specimens.

We checked out bug books from the library to help identify their finds and to recognize spiders they should avoid.

I realized that backfired when I overheard my middle son saying to his younger brother, “Nope. That’s not a black widow. Keep looking.”

In retrospect, it’s amazing that no one got bit or stung.

I wished I’d been more patient when they careened through the house, shrieking with excitement, holding a newly captured specimen aloft.

Instead, I often feigned interest and wearily reminded them of the “no bugs in the house” rule. In my defense, you can only rave about the coolness of pill bugs a finite number of times.

I just didn’t realize how quickly those summers would pass. Older friends tried to warn me.

“Slow down, enjoy these days, it all goes too fast,” they said.

Sometimes I did slow down enough to savor the sight of four little boys crouching in the driveway, watching a row of ants march across the gravel.

I wish I had a picture of that. But when my sons were small, cellphones didn’t come with cool cameras. Capturing memories meant running back inside the house, trying to unearth a camera.

Summer can seem endless, but it isn’t. You blink and suddenly there’s a chill in the night air and the leaves start to turn.

As I watched the three little boys run across the Orchard Prairie schoolyard with their ginormous spider, I wished I’d taken their photo.

I would have sent it to their mother.

A snapshot of a boyhood that will disappear in the blink of an eye.

Columns

Gowns for Grace

She should be turning 16 on June 1.

She should be clutching her newly minted driver’s license and deciding if she wants a big Sweet 16 bash, or to just hang out with family.

She should be so many things, but most important, she should be here. But she isn’t.

Grace Susie Bain died May 29, 2003. She was delivered June 1, 2003.

How do you mark this kind of milestone?

Sarah Bain, Grace’s mom, thought long and hard about ways to honor her daughter’s brief passage through this world. Then she got her wedding gown out of her closet and called Peggy Mangiaracina.

Mangiaracina had a long career in health care, from starting as a labor and delivery nurse to retiring 35 years later as executive director of Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital and vice president of women’s services.

When she retired, she got out her sewing machine and began making “angel gowns” for babies like Grace, who never come home from the hospital.

The Angel Gown program has chapters and affiliates across the U.S. Volunteer seamstresses take donated wedding dresses and create gowns for stillborn infants or babies who die soon after birth.

“I remember being a labor and delivery nurse and not having anything for these babies,” Mangiaracina said. “Parents would ask me what I wrapped their baby in. They wanted to know.”

Last week, Sarah invited me to be with her when she gave her wedding dress to Mangiaracina.

First, the talented seamstress showed us examples of how she used the donated dresses. From a bin she pulled out gowns fit for a princess’ christening and tiny satin tuxedos with velvet bow ties – each creation, like each child, unique.

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Wedding gown trim like tiny seed pearls, satin-covered buttons and delicate lace make each gown a work of art.

“Oh, I would have loved a gown for Grace,” Sarah said.

In addition to wedding wear, Mangiaracina has used prom gowns, handkerchiefs and high-quality linens. She also uses soft, carefully lined flannel to make little “cocoons” for the tiniest and most fragile babies.

At the hospital, nurses offer grieving parents a small selection of gowns to choose from. Infants can wear them for photos and to the funeral home.

Mangiaracina gives the parents of the baby a memory square with a swatch of fabric from their child’s gown, a silver heart charm and a card that reads, “Babies are innocence on earth, a link between angels and man.”

Each woman who donates a gown also receives a memory square, as well as photographs of the gowns made from their donated dress.

Friends help Mangiaracina with the sewing. A group of ladies in Coeur d’Alene knit tiny hats to go with the gowns. Then they are distributed to nine hospitals across the region.

Now, it was Sarah’s turn. Her beautiful ivory satin gown with puffed sleeves, elaborate beadwork and a scalloped lace train hadn’t been taken from the box since her wedding 24 years ago.

She knew the dress wasn’t to her 18-year-old daughter Sophia Bain’s taste, so she decided to use it to honor Grace.

59708414_2312918792080068_1957199751925465088_n[1]Her eyes filled with tears as we opened the box.

“I wore this before I knew babies died,” she said. “This is like donating an organ, like pieces of my heart are being spread out across the community.”

And she told Mangiaracina her story. About the sorrow and trauma that came with the news that her baby had died while safely snuggled under her heart. About the scant few hours she had to hold her. About how the loss of Grace forever changed her and her family.

She also talked about her wedding day, and how she’d felt like a princess in that gown.

“Every dress has a story,” Mangiaracina said.

The story of Sarah’s wedding dress isn’t over. Sometime in the next year, grieving parents will carefully dress their baby in a bit of ivory satin. Tears will likely dampen delicate beadwork. And the gown that Sarah wore with such joy will bring them a measure of comfort and the sweetest whisper of Grace.

Columns

A soldier’s letters home

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Dear Mom and Dad,

I’m now in the barracks and have just a short time to write before the lights go off. I wanted to ask you to send my clarinet. They are forming a band in the company and I want to join it. The commander is very strong for anything musical. He said if we send for our instruments, the army would take care of them for us. They will ship them any place we go….

Please write soon.

Your “Private” Son,

Love Jack xxx

The letters came from Fort Devens, Massachusetts, from Camp Pontchartrain, Louisiana, from Dutch East Indies, New Guinea, and the Philippines – approximately 150 in all.

Jack Rogers enlisted in the Army in 1943, at age 19. He was assigned to the amphibious engineers unit and spent three years on active duty, two of them in the South Pacific.

When he returned from the military, he embarked on a lifelong career as an artist, illustrator and teacher. I met him many years ago when he taught art at my sons’ elementary school.

A founding member of the Spokane Watercolor Society, Jack started the art department at Spokane Falls Community College in 1963 and taught there for 26 years. He never actually retired. In fact, he was still painting and teaching the last week of his life.

He was an amazing, inspiring man, and I wrote several articles about him for this newspaper. I also included Jack and Fran Rogers’ story in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”

Recently, I went to Fran’s 95th birthday party. As I was leaving, their daughter Nancy asked if I’d like to read some of the letters Jack wrote home while serving during World War ll.

I eagerly pored over them when Nancy dropped them off. I thought I knew Jack and World War ll history pretty well, but these letters offered a new glimpse of military life during the war and they also reveal Jack’s wit and talent for telling a tale. Many of the envelopes are illustrated with his whimsical sketches and drawings.

Boy Mom, you ought to see me sew my insignias on. I can almost thread the needle every time. And as for my laundry, well they give you plenty of G.I. soap. We have plenty of water the rest is just plain elbow grease….

Please write real often.

Love Your Private Son Jack

Even the more serious anecdotes feature Jack’s flair.

Last Thursday Red was on guard. He felt a little sick, so he sat down and went to sleep and the O.D. caught him. Well, if you don’t know it that is a very serious offense in the Army. Friday they had a court marshell (sic) but no one would testify that he was actually asleep, so they charged him with sitting down while on duty.

Lots of Love, Your son Jack, good nite Mom xxx

He often couldn’t tell them exactly where he was or what his training entailed.

“You know, military secrets,” he wrote.

But in one letter he enclosed a small card emblazoned “Ancient Order of the Deep” that certified he’d crossed the equator aboard the S.S. Extavia on May 10, 1944.

Last night we slept on deck as it was too stuffy below. Although the steel deck didn’t have much spring, it was a lot cooler.

He asked his mom to send him things like white handkerchiefs, jockey shorts and coat hangers. She dutifully noted his requests on the backs of the envelopes.

In a 1944 letter from New Guinea, Jack already sounds like an old soldier instead of a young recruit.

Company had a rifle and personal inspection. It was the first we have had since leaving the States. How I remember the days when you shined your boots ’til you could shave in them, stood in ranks thinking of all the things that could hold up that weekend pass. Did you remember to tuck your handkerchief all the way in the pocket? Could you have missed a button, or could some dust have gotten on your rifle?

But a letter from Dutch East Indies shows that he and his buddies were still kids at heart.

They got a bulldozer and fixed up a softball field. And we have a league started in the company, playing in the evenings and Sundays. It sure roused a lot of company spirit.

It reminded me of what he’d said in an interview.

“Our whole company was made up of kids – kids dressed up as soldiers,” he’d said.

On Dec. 23, 1944, Jack wrote of Christmas plans.

Cornie is now fixing up a little java for us and we broke down and opened one of our fruit cakes. We were talking tonight that we would get us a small palm and decorate it, but I’ll be darned if I know what we’d use for decorations.

Jack’s unit was the first one back into Manila, Philippines, after Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s famous landing, and they served as part of the occupational forces in Japan. They were torpedoed by subs and shot at by kamikazes.

The letters from home served as their lifeline – their connection to the world they’d left behind and the world they wanted to come back to.

Good nite Mom and don’t worry about anything on this end. Write soon. Your loving son, Jack.

Columns

Some like it hot… especially me

They say you don’t appreciate what you have until you no longer have it.

Take electricity for example. In August we lost power for several hours. It didn’t take long for my family to deeply appreciate the magic that happens when you flip a switch and the lights come on.

Apparently, the Universe deemed we needed another lesson in gratitude.

Ten years ago, my husband and his father replaced our aging water heater with a fancy tankless model. Like all Hval projects it was fraught with unforeseen complications. Namely, they couldn’t get the water shut off. But also like all Hval projects, it was worth the wait.

At the time, we had six people living at home, including four active boys. Showering had turned into a competitive sport. No one wanted to be the last one to shower because that’s when the hot water usually ran out. And God help the Mom who threw a load of laundry in while boys were bathing.

After our new tankless system was installed, Derek ran his hand over the compact, gleaming wall-mounted beauty.

“We’ll never run out of hot water, again!” he said.

For a long time, he was right. But a few years ago, the heater began making some ominous noises. We ignored them.

This summer the rattle turned to a roar that echoed all the way outdoors to the Great Gazebo where I sunned myself.

And then the dripping started.

Last month, Derek and I came home after an evening out, and Zach said, “Did you know water is coming out of the hot water heater?”

We did not know this.

After assessing the situation, Derek put a bucket under it.

Within days the trickle became a small but steady stream and the bucket had to be emptied with increasing frequency. We took to turning the water heater off at night.

“I think it’s the heat exchanger,” said Derek.

Then he did something unheard of in the Hval household: He called for professional help.

A plumber visited and confirmed Derek’s suspicion, and recommended replacing the entire unit. The estimated cost was the equivalent of sending one of us to Hawaii while the other stayed home and ate macaroni and cheese for a week.

“I’ll just replace the heat exchanger and I’ll do it myself,” Derek announced.

He watched a YouTube video about the process and ordered the part online.

“It’ll be here in less than a week,” he said.

Of course, that was the day the water heater quit all together.

Theoretically, one can live without hot water. You can wash your hands and your clothes in cold and our dishwasher has its own heating coils. What you cannot do is shower in cold water. At least I can’t.

The four of us scrambled to find bathing options while we waited for the part to arrive. We have a gym membership, so Derek and Sam took hot showers there. I could have done that, too, but I like more privacy when I get ready for my day. Thankfully, I housesit for snowbirds during the fall and winter, and hot showers and my office away from home were just a short drive away.

Which left poor Zachary (who’d let his gym membership lapse) to learn the military discipline of taking an icy shower.

“The key is to keep your feet out of the way of the water,” he informed us.

A chilly week passed before the part arrived. It had some complicated wiring, but Derek easily figured it out and hooked it up in record time.

He switched it on and waited. No rattle. No roar. And unfortunately no hot water.

“I think the dripping water fried the fan,” he said. “I’ll order a new one. It’ll be here in a couple days.”

We are a stoic lot, but the news was hard to take. Our combined groans sounded almost as loud as the defunct water heater used to.

On the appointed day, the fan arrived while we were all at work. Derek hurried home to install it. The rest of us watched our phones, anxiously awaiting word.

Within minutes a text arrived. “We have HOT WATER!”

Such beautiful words!

Zachary got the first shower. He’d earned it.

As for me, when it was my turn to luxuriate under the warm water’s soothing spray, I counted my blessings. Loudly. Just in case the Universe thinks I need any more reminders.

All Write, Columns, TV

Telling a story in 150 seconds

They say learning new things keeps your mind sharp. Or is that sharpening things keeps you learning?

At any rate, when the producer of a new half-hour television show, “Spokane Talks,” on Fox28 Spokane asked if I’d be willing to do a short commentary at the close of each weekly broadcast, I agreed.

I’ve never been a television personality or a news anchor, but I did study radio and TV broadcasting at Newtech Skill Center (formerly Spokane Vocational Skills Center).

Granted that was in 1983, but hey, I got straight A’s.

Plus, the precarious state of dead tree journalism makes me think I’d better expand my skill set, just in case someday no one wants to “Wake Up and Read It.”

To that end, the one stipulation I had is that this newspaper gets mentioned in the opening credits of my segments. Who knows, maybe television viewers can be newspaper readers, too.

OK, I did have other stipulations regarding hair, wardrobe, snacks in the green room and limo service, but apparently those emails went missing.

When I told my sons about my new venture, I said, “It will be like Andy Rooney on ‘60 Minutes,’ only with better eyebrows.”

“Who’s Andy Rooney?” they asked.

“He’s that really short actor that was married like, 12 times,” my husband replied.

Which is when I realized TV news programs are probably teetering on the brink of extinction, as well.

We found some “60 Minute” clips on YouTube.

My sons were not impressed, but they agreed my brows were better groomed and thought I probably had a superior wardrobe.

Moving on.

The folks at “Spokane Talks” created a cool introduction, featuring the dulcet voice of Tom McArthur.

The segments, like this column, are called the “Front Porch,” and writing the tag line, (That’s the view from my front porch) was a breeze.

Coming up with weekly segments, no longer than two-and-a-half minutes in length?

Not so breezy.

I mean, I have sneezes that last longer.

In newspaper journalism, we’re told to write tight, that if it takes you more than 1,000 words to tell a story, you’re probably using too many adjectives. Or worse. Adverbs.

But telling a story with a beginning, middle and end in a 150-second frame proved tricky. Especially since my only audience during the taping is a couple of unblinking television cameras and Vinnie, whom I can’t see because he’s in the booth.

It’s like talking to yourself while someone is eavesdropping. I decided my entourage should accompany me to the studio.

Unfortunately, my cats don’t travel well, so I roped my manager into going with me. I had to promise to buy him dinner afterward, but he’s got a vested interest in my career and is usually a good sport. A well-fed good sport.

“You’re in charge of wardrobe malfunctions,” I told him.

“Causing them or preventing them?” he asked.

It’s tough when your manager is your husband, but if Celine Dion did it, then so can I. Not that I plan to do any singing on television. At least not intentionally.

In fact, Derek has been trying to manage me for years. He says some days it feels like a full-time job, but the benefits are pretty nice.

Six weeks into the program, I haven’t been censored by the FCC, groped any interns or appeared on television with lipstick on my teeth, so I think it’s going OK.

I asked my sons what they thought.

“Uh. This is on YouTube, right?” they asked.

No wonder Andy Rooney was a curmudgeon.

I’m not sure if my mind is any sharper, but I’m figuring out how to cut excess verbiage, make use of camera angles and use a teleprompter app on my husband’s Kindle.

Now, I’m working on not grimacing on camera. Seeing still shots from the shows revealed I have a very expressive face. Unfortunately, many of those expressions should not be seen on network TV.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but maybe this old columnist can learn something new.

Stay tuned.

On the air

“Spokane Talks” airs Sundays at 6 p.m. on KAYU Fox 28 Spokane. To see previously aired “Front Porch” segments go to https://spokanetalksmedia.com/ and click the Front Porch tab.

All Write, TV

Roadwork Reveal

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I mean, what’s the point of embarrassing moments if you can’t share your humiliation with the world?

Thankfully, the time I inadvertently modeled my lingerie for a road crew wasn’t captured on YouTube, so you’ll have to settle for this retelling.

Clink here for the fully-clothed totally respectable view from my Front Porch.

 

Columns

Finding the true meaning of Dyngus

Sightseeing is thirsty business. After exploring the Christmas Story House and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland last month, we stopped for refreshment at the Tremont Tap House.

Our friendly server asked where we were from and when I said Washington, she asked, “The one by Canada?”

Once we were clear on geography and had our beverages, she asked if we’d be in Cleveland for Dyngus Day.

Now, when I was a kid “dingus” was synonymous with dingbat, dumbbell, doofus, and other not so nice words. Who knew there was a special day set aside to celebrate the dim bulbs among us?

Our waitress quickly disabused me of that notion.

“Dyngus Day is also called Wet Monday,” she explained. “It’s the day after Easter. There’s a parade and polkas and pierogis.”

She grabbed a guidebook off the counter.

“You can read all about it,” she said. “It’s a hoot. We throw water on each other and hit people with pussy willow branches.”

I love a good polka as much as anyone, but having water thrown on me, and being smacked by shrubbery isn’t what I consider a “hoot.”

Alas, I didn’t have opportunity to experience the delight of Dyngus because we flew home just before the holiday.

My curiosity was piqued, though, so this weekend I sat down and perused the booklet describing Cleveland’s biggest polka party. And then I delved deeper into the Dyngus.

First of all we were wrong to use the word as a childhood slur because loosely translated it actually means worthy, proper or suitable.

Historically a Polish tradition, Dyngus Day celebrates the end of the observance of Lent and the joy of Easter. It dates back to the baptism of Prince Mieszko I on Easter Monday in 966 A.D. The water symbolized purification, hence “Wet Monday.”

Cleveland is just one of many cities throughout the U.S. that hosts parties and parades in honor of Easter Monday. The largest celebration is in Buffalo, New York, where a local paper once proclaimed, “Everybody is Polish on Dyngus Day!”

Traditions abound, including wearing red and white, the colors of the Polish flag. But perhaps the most well-known Dyngus Day tradition is that in which single boys try to splash water on single girls as an expression of interest. Rooting from the baptism of the prince, the water represents cleansing, purification and fertility.

Men and women can also flirt with pussy willows, which are among the first plants to bud in the spring. The young men may lightly hit women on their legs to show they are interested.

That’s why my Cleveland guide lists the following as Dyngus Day essential items; pussy willows, squirt guns and polka pants.

Apparently, squirt gun fights and pussy willow whacks add up to a really good time.

Not everyone has been a fan of the celebration. The Bishop of Pozan’ tried to derail Dyngus Day in 1410. He forbade it, instructing residents not to “pester or plague others in what is universally called Dingus.”

Obviously, the prohibition didn’t stick. Probably because other activities include sampling Polish foods like pierogis, kielbasa and stuffed cabbage and drinking pints of piwo (beer).

Polka music is the heart and soul of the party, which means roving accordion bands and plenty of room for dancing.

In Cleveland the celebration culminates with the crowning of Miss Dyngus Day, followed by a parade featuring the “Frankie Yankovic accordion head float.”

I cannot believe we missed an ACCORDION HEAD FLOAT.

Which leaves me to wonder if Spokane has a large enough Polish community to pull of our own party and parade?

In any case, I’ve already planned our next trip to Ohio. I’m practicing my polka because we’ll be back on April 29, 2019 – Dyngus Day.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

When It’s Hard to be Thankful

I stared at my writing calendar in disbelief.

How is it possible? I wondered. The Thanksgiving column, AGAIN!?

In 10-plus years of writing this twice-monthly column, I’m almost positive the Thanksgiving writing duty has mostly fallen in my lap.

Oh, I know colleague Stefanie Pettit has tackled it a time or two – but still, that’s a lot of gratitude, and frankly, I’ve been feeling less than grateful lately.

There’s no rule or commandment that says a column published on Thanksgiving Day must invoke that topic, yet I feel a certain obligation to at least acknowledge the holiday. Imagine having a column run on Christmas Day and writing about cats.

Never mind. I’ve probably done that.

Sighing, I pulled up my files and scanned my list of previous turkey day topics.

Thankful after windstorm? Check.

Eating at the kids’ table? Check.

Black Friday? Check.

Thankful for appliances? Check.

Empty chairs around the table? Check.

I poured another cup of coffee and pondered the problem. A slippery slope, because rumination opened a floodgate of negativity as I recalled the difficult past few weeks.

I’d rather write about the things I’m NOT thankful for, I thought.

And the column took shape in my mind.

I’m not thankful for a deeply personal betrayal and the resulting loss and grief.

I’m not thankful for a health scare that knocked me for a loop and made me miserable.

I’m not thankful for a change in finances that put upcoming travel plans in jeopardy.

I’m not thankful for another trip to the emergency room with my ailing mother.

I’m not thankful that the above issues resulted in me putting my Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer work on hold.

Typing this list made me feel worse.

Abandoning the column-in-progress, I did what I so often do when stymied by a project. I laced up my walking shoes and headed out the door into a dank, gray November drizzle that perfectly reflected my mood.

Here’s the deal: I’ve never thought of myself as an optimist or a pessimist; I’m solidly in the realist camp. What is is, and feelings don’t change facts.

Yet as I shuffled through soggy leaves, I kept finding bits of gold and copper that gleamed against the asphalt, despite the dreary day. The juxtaposition sparked a glint of joy.

My mood lifted, my thoughts cleared and I mentally reviewed and reframed my list of woes.

That hurtful betrayal opened a door to healing in other, far more important relationships.

Dealing with a miserable illness made me realize just how blessed I’ve been with good health, and how easily I take that for granted.

The financial changes allowed Derek and me to reconsider our long-range plans, and we decided to pay off our mortgage. It felt amazing to walk out of the bank debt-free.

This ER visit with Mom had a profound difference. Not only did she check out fine, but instead of returning to an empty house, she returned to a safe community filled with kind people who watch over her.

Letting go of my volunteer responsibilities for a while has freed me to focus on family, and on friendships that are essential to surviving hard times.

I trudged on. The clouds didn’t magically part. The rain didn’t lessen. Yet I was overcome with gratitude.

Like finding bits of gold in soggy November leaves, discovering joy in the midst of sadness changes perception and opens your heart to new possibilities.

And I have never been more thankful for the privilege of writing another Thanksgiving column.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

Barely bothered by roadwork

I’m not at my best in the morning. I admit it. I don’t relish the sunrise. In fact, I’d prefer not to be notified of its occurrence.

I say this to explain why I inadvertently exposed more of myself than strictly necessary to the road crew working on the gas lines in front of my house last week.

It’s not like I was unaware of their presence. I mean, it’s pretty hard to ignore a backhoe parked across your street. Or a guy with a jackhammer breaking up the asphalt at the end of the driveway. Or the port-a-potty perched up the hill. After all, it’s the first thing I see when I open my living room blinds in the morning.

Still. It was the crack of dawn on a Monday morning (OK, 8 a.m.) and I hadn’t yet had my first cup of coffee. I usually enjoy my coffee while I read the newspaper. My husband or sons set it inside the door when they leave for whatever they do before 8 a.m., but on this day, there was no newspaper to be found.

I slumped down the stairs, opened the door and found our delivery person’s aim had been a bit off. The paper wasn’t nestled against the door; it was perched precariously on the edge of the porch.

Squinting my eyes against the morning glare, I stumbled forward, bending down to retrieve my sun-warmed newsprint.

A slight breeze shifted my short summer nightgown. The garment I hadn’t bothered to throw a robe over, since I was home alone.

Newspaper in hand, I straightened up. That’s when I saw the flagman with the STOP sign at the end of my driveway. That’s when I noticed the half-dozen hard-hatted workers swarming across the street.

Mortified, I gathered the slim remains of my dignity (and the even slimmer fragments of satin fabric) and shrunk toward my doorway.

The flagger slowly, raised his hand to his hard hat in a solemn salute. Then he grinned.

I know from my husband’s days as a military officer that I should have returned the salute, but like I said, I’m not my best in the morning.

I backed in through door, holding the tightly wrapped newspaper in front of me like a shield. Unfortunately, Monday’s paper is the slimmest shield The Spokesman-Review offers.

I took a few deep breaths, gulped some coffee and called my husband.

“Can you pick up something for dinner tonight? I can’t leave the house.”

He found my humiliation hilarious.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ve seen worse,” he said.

“Worse? Do I look that bad in the morning!?”

Turns out my husband isn’t at his best or brightest in the morning, either.

Of course, I couldn’t hide in my house all week, but when it came time for my afternoon walk, I admit, I snuck out through our backyard and took a shortcut through the neighbor’s yard to avoid making eye contact with the friendly flagger.

The week and the street work on. Many mornings I awoke to the jarring sound of a jackhammer. Waking up is hard enough for me. Waking up to a jackhammer proved positively painful.

I finally penned a poem and posted it on social media.

Ode to a Jackhammer and the Man Who Wields it Outside My Front Door

For the love of God,

STOP!

Yeah. So, I should probably stick to journalism. At any rate progress is proceeding at a glacial pace. Replacing gas lines can’t be done quickly. But I’m rather fond of hot showers and my gas fireplace warms my basement office all winter. Plus, the crews are working long, hard days in horrible heat, so I keep all this in mind when I navigate our torn-up streets.

I drive slowly and always try to offer a smile or a greeting when I’m forced to wait for a backhoe to move, or truck to rumble by.

On Friday, the flagman at the end of my driveway motioned for me to roll down my window as I backed out.

“Thank you for your smiles and friendly waves,” he said. “You would not believe how many dirty looks we get.”

I’m sure his appreciation had nothing to do with the nightgown-newspaper debacle. And his words of gratitude prompted my own thankful reflection.

The noise and inconvenience of the roadwork hasn’t been pleasant, but as I sat on my couch and gazed out my front window that evening, I realized things could be worse.

We could be the house that’s had a Porta Potty parked in front of it for two weeks.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

Smells Like Teen Spirit

The nurse in the delivery room smiled as I pressed my nose to the downy head of my newborn son.

“He smells like angel kisses,” I murmured, besotted.

I had a nonmedicated birth, so I couldn’t blame that statement on a drug-induced haze. Nope, this was a love-induced haze.

“Enjoy it while it lasts,” said the nurse. “In about 13 years you’re going to walk into his room and gag. It’s gonna reek like ripe goat pen meets Old Spice.”

I stared blankly at her. It was like she was speaking Swahili.

That was many years ago, and of course, now I know that nurse had pretty much called it. However, I can’t attest to the goat pen analogy. In my experience (and I’ve had a lot of experience) the scent of a teenage male’s room is best described as sweaty gym socks meet crushed corn ships, mingled with soccer jersey left to mildew in the bottom of an athletic bag, topped with a cloying cloud of Axe body spray.

The odor could be marketed as a teen-pregnancy-prevention aid.

Baby boys should come with a disclaimer. The heady scent of Baby Magic lotion wears off long before they reach kindergarten and is initially replaced by the smell of dirt. Plain old dirt. Which isn’t bad, it’s a reminder of all their adventures.

Adventure-reminders also include; worms, gravel, sticks and clumps of mud left in pockets. Mud? You may ask. It was for the worms, of course. But that earthy aroma is better than what comes next.

Around age 12, the smell of dirt gives way Eau de Gag. It’s so unfair that by the time they really start smelling good again, they move out.

At one time I had three teenage boys living in my house. Trust me when I say there are not enough Yankee candles in the world to compensate.

Change in body odor is one thing, but the universal shift in attitude as boys transition from teens to young men – well, that’s something impossible to mask.

Eye-rolling “whatevers” often replace heart-to-heart conversations. The chattiest of teens suddenly embraces sullen silence, and sometimes the silence is shattered by angry words and accusations that fly through the home polluting the atmosphere more than gym socks and body spray ever could.

And the things we find in pockets are far more sobering than worms.

Even when you know this necessary bid for healthy separation and independence is coming – when you know this is the natural order of things – it’s still painful.

As they grow, we lovingly support their independence by giving them safe places to explore. But when they can drive and spend long hours away from our watchful eyes, they sometimes explore places we’d rather protect them from.

Now, with just one teen left at home, these pitfalls don’t dismay me and instead of clutching him more tightly, I hold him more loosely than I did his older brothers.

Because I know what comes next. If you can weather those turbulent teen years, a really nice young man may come home to visit you. And he’ll actually choose to spend time with you.

Last weekend, one of those young men came home for dinner. As I reached up and wrapped my arms around my oldest son, he pressed his whiskery cheek against my forehead.

I hugged him, and somewhere beneath the cigarette smoke and shampoo, I caught the faintest whiff of my baby boy. Time blurred, melted and stopped momentarily, as I closed my eyes, breathed deeply and held him tight.

This I know. If someday my eyesight fails, if my hearing declines, if I lose my sense of touch, I will always recognize this man I call my son. His infant scent is embedded in our mutual DNA. To me he still smells like angel kisses.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.